A Miami judge faces suspension for using the word "moolie" to describe an African-American defendant and referring to another man's supporters in court as "thugs."
An investigative panel for Florida's Judicial Qualifications Commission recommended that Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stephen Millan be suspended for 30 days, fined $5,000 and be issued a public reprimand. Millan agreed to the punishment, which must be approved by the Florida Supreme Court.
Millan, 52, who is of Italian and Puerto Rican descent and grew up in New York City, "readily admitted to his misconduct" and paid to attend racial sensitivity training. Still, the JQC said, suspension was "warranted to demonstrate to the public, and to remind the judiciary, that racial bias has no place in our judicial system."
He is also being disciplined for inappropriately communicating with lawyers about scheduling outside of the courtroom setting.
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Millan, a lawyer with experience handling immigration, criminal defense and bankruptcy cases, was elected in 2014 and was soon placed in the criminal division of Miami-Dade circuit court, overseeing felony cases.
It was in 2016 and 2017 that lawyers reported he used "demeaning language in off-the-record conversations" representing defendants.
In one case, in October 2016, a lawyer was in Millan's chambers discussing scheduling when the judge called the defendant a "moolie."
The term is not commonly used today, but is a shortened version of "mulignan" — a Sicilian slur used to describe black people or somebody with a dark complexion, according to the commission's report on the case. The word "literally translates as 'eggplant,"' the report said.
When questioned by investigators, Millan didn't recall using the word but said he had "no reason to believe the allegation is false."
Millan claimed that he was familiar with the slur and had "used it intermittently as a 'youngster' growing up in New York."
Then, in 2017, Millan was taking a break during a hearing for a different African-American defendant charged with murder when he told his bailiff to grab his wallet he had left in the courtroom. "I don't trust it in there with those thugs," he said.
The defendant's attorney heard the comment, believing the judge was referring to the man's family and friends who were sitting in court, the report said. The lawyer protested by saying the "family and friends were good people."
Millan blamed his upbringing as a "youngster" in New York. "It was not unusual for my friends and I to occasionally use slur words when referring to others, including our friends and ourselves,” he told the JQC.
"The use of racially derogatory and demeaning language to describe litigants, criminal defendants or members of the public, even behind closed doors or during off-the-record conversations, erodes public confidence in a fair and impartial judiciary," Judge Kristina Marx, the JQC's chair, wrote in her report.
"The Commission is unswayed by Judge Millan’s testimony that he gained familiarity with the use of certain racial slurs during his youth."
Millan is no longer presiding over cases in criminal court. He is now overseeing cases in the juvenile division.